Tragedies of liberal interventionist thinking in Syria and elsewhere

Where to start? Maybe with this piece by Le Monde Diplo’s Alain Gresh today (or anyway, recently.) In it, he writes:

    The opposition cannot bring down the government, and the government cannot put down an uprising that has a surprising determination and courage…

I was writing the exact same thing more than a year ago.
Who listened then? And here we are, one year later. And yes, there is still deadlock.
In the intervening twelve months, there have been several periods when the well-rewarded people sitting in comfy think-tanks in Washington DC, and their allies, were absolutely convinced that Pres. Bashar al-Asad was “just on the point of leaving office.” I recall one phone call three months or so ago with someone who’d recently left Thinktankistan for (equally nicely paid) “service” in the U.S. government when he said, “Yes, we in [this branch of the US government] have all been amazed that Bashar did not do as we thought he would, and take this opportunity to take Asma and the children on a lovely long vacation somewhere.”
(As though the departure of Pres. Asad would somehow have “solved” anything?)
But really, that was the entire gameplan of Hillary Clinton’s State department; and it was based on a completely faulty understanding of the situation inside Syria.
Back to Alain Gresh, whom I have met once or twice and is generally fairly smart about developments in the Mashreq. It is, however, his point of departure in this latest piece that puzzles me. He writes:

    Should we do nothing? There are other options than military intervention. Economic pressure on Syria has already made some middle-class government supporters reconsider, and this could be increased, as long as it targeted the leaders and not the population… ”

Who is the “we” in whose name he is writing there? That is the puzzle for me. Truly.
Are French (or one-generation-on, French-naturalized) intellectuals like Alain Gresh easily able to identify themselves with the policies of their national government, which would be one version of the “we” he is speaking of here? Or is it the kind of airy-fairy, untethered, liberal-universalistic “we” whom he is claiming to represent?
But really, why should anyone who is not a Syrian claim to have any kind of a right to speak about what should happen in that beleaguered country– now, or at any other point?
Maybe I’m just jaded about the claims of “liberal” universalism these days because so many of my liberal-universalist friends have found themselves so easily seduced by the claims of the militarists– in re Syria, as Libya, and elsewhere.
* * *
But I truly do not understand how liberal universalists in the west, whose views, representations, and analyses of what is happening in Myanmar/Burma in these months are so uniformly calm and supportive of the wrenchingly negotiated transition to greater democracy there absolutely never stop to ask whether a similar process may not also be the best thing for Syria today (as it was for South Africa, 20 years ago.)
Why is Syria’s current government uniquely picked out by these so-called liberals as worthy of their rage, anger, and militarized “intervention” when those other authoritarian regimes, actually, committed far worse abuses against their citizens over the course of many decades?
Why the racism that is deeply embedded in these kinds of judgments?
And yes, “Avaaz”, I am speaking about you, too.
* * *
This intense partisanship and Asad-hatred of the liberals in the west have had real conseuqneces, too. Among other things, they have helped strengthen the hand of the really nasty, neoconservative and neo-colonial interventionists within our respective western societies. And they have held out false hopes of significant western-government and western-society support to those among the oppositionists in Syria who have been open to the idea of exploiting western backing (including military backing) for their own gain.
As I tweeted a few weeks back: This has many of the same aspects of tragedy as Hungary 1956 and Basra 1991. Almost criminally irresponsible, I would say.
* * *
It’s been hard, sitting on the relative sidelines over recent months, seeing so many of my longstanding warnings go unheeded– regarding Syria, as regarding Palestine, Iraq, U.S. militarism in general, and a number of other issues. But I fought the good (rhetorical) fight here at JWN and in other forums of public discourse, for so many years. Completely, I should note, unpaid by anyone; but that’s okay. Now, I am more in a phase of building up this institution that is my publishing company, Just World Books. It’s a different set of challenges, but also over the long haul extremely worthwhile and, I hope, transformative of the discourse. I am, it should go without saying, really proud of the publishing we’ve done so far, and excited about the projects we have immediately ahead.
(I really appreciate all support JWN readers can give to the publishing house. Check out our list of great titles– and buy profligately from among them!– at the JWB webstore, here.)
So here, anyway is a thought for Easter/Passover. Let’s work for a lot less militarism and lot fewer calls for “liberal interventionism” (which only too often ends up meaning only war), from everyone in the disproportionately powerful west… And let’s have a lot more focusing on how conflicts can be resolved in ways other than escalation and war; in ways, that is, that aim specifically at the de-escalation of tensions, an end to finger-pointing, and the knowingly partisan treatment of claims about each side’s commission of atrocities. Let’s remember that Syria is a complex, sizeable country that is the homeland of its own people. It is not, and should not be turned into, a playground for other countries’ grudge matches and competitions (as happened, only too tragically, to the citizenries of Lebanon and Iraq.) Let’s look at other examples around the world where peoples won expanded rights and empowerment through negotiated transitions. And let’s, honestly, forget all this misguided and misapplied business about outsiders having any pre-ordained “responsibility” or even, heaven forbid, “duty” to intervene.
I’m sorry, Alain Gresh. I don’t mean to take after you in person. I know you’re a smart, sensitive, and concerned analyst. But there was just something about that “we” you used in that article that seemed badly out of place…

6 thoughts on “Tragedies of liberal interventionist thinking in Syria and elsewhere

  1. annie

    i agree with Hiba, a wonderful article. yes, i was reading about the ‘humanitarian corridor’ the west wants to make thru syria just today over @ moon of alabama. all these cushy names for nasty business. if only we be humanitarians. and by ‘we’ i mean all of us.

  2. annie

    Russia urges Syria, Annan to step up peace effort
    “.
    “It would be better for the United States and other countries with direct access to various Syrian opposition groups not to point at Russia and China, but to set their levers in motion to … force everybody to stop shooting at one another.”
    “We want once again today to call on all opposition (groups) and all states that have influence on the political and especially the armed opposition to use the influence with the aim of an immediate ceasefire by all sides.””

  3. Abdelhafid Dib

    Comment from… Abdelhafid Dib, at November 26, 2011 11:42 AM:
    What about one week zero-killing !
    This suggestion is addressed to to Syrian regime to take positive steps to stop repression and killing his people and establish a serious dialogue among all political wings . although my dislike of conspiracy theory , the slogan الشعب يريد و الغرب يستفيد ( belongs to one of my close friends) ” the people want and the west will benefit ” still poses a big question in my mind. in my viewpoint, there is a hidden political agenda taken by GCC and Turkey and strongly backed by western powers which make Arab spring turned into a mined revolution and the case of Libya serves a good example.
    I hope this suggestion is still valid and not too late for the Syrian regime.
    Hafid

  4. brian

    NATO-backed outsiders failed in town where Jesus’ language is still spoken
    http://friendsofsyria.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/nato-backed-outsiders-failed-in-town-where-jesus-language-is-still-spoken/
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/12/syria-annan-plan-nato
    Conrad77
    13 April 2012 12:47AM This Annan plan is a cruel hoax. By failing to identify all the players in this conflict, it’s absurd to believe an end to hostilities can be achieved. Why no insistence that Turkey refrain from arming the rebels? Why no insistence that UK, US, French, German and Israeli special forces leave Syria? And why no outcry from the UN – this is after all in violation of international law, because these are foreign forces on Syrian soil.
    Why no insistence that the Gulf states refrain from paying the rebels? The House of Saud and Qatar have institutionalised that motley crew known as the Free Syrian Army as a mercenary outfit; they are now on their payroll, to the tune of $100 million (and counting). Isn’t democracy wonderful – when US-allied Persian Gulf monarchies can buy a mercenary army for peanuts? Isn’t it great to be a revolutionary with an assured paycheque? Just like in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war powers of the west have been privatised.
    As Patrick Henningsen points out, “if Obama was faced with this situation, to have US militias armed and being aided by the Chinese, Canadians or the Mexicans and terrorising cities in the US, you’d better believe that the US Federal Government would give two fingers up to the United Nations and tell them ‘stay out of our business because we have a domestic insurgency problem which we need to put down in order to bring stability to our state’ – why isn’t Syria viewed this way?”
    This anonymous Guardian editorial states that Assad has been ordering snipers to keep shooting – presumably aiming at innocent unarmed protestors – there is absolutely no credible evidence that this has been happening. Western media have for months been relying on Syrian Human Rights Watch for news and citing this as a legitimate source of information – one man holed up in a flat in Coventry – what a joke! There is however plenty of evidence of so called ‘rebel’ snipers firing indiscriminately. Those caught up in this terror are then labelled by the western corporate propaganda machine as victims of Syrian government troops. As Stephen Lendmen rightly observes, Annan’s so-called peace plan is sham cover for what’s planned. A longstanding imperial tool, he’s part of the problem, not the solution. Instead of pointing fingers the right way, he blames Syria for insurgent crimes. Kofi Annan is not a peacemaker, Kofi Annan is a war-maker. He has stated his position on numerous occasions, calling for the collaboration of the United Nations with NATO. In Istanbul, pretense dissolved. So did Annan’s sham peace plan. Couched in diplomatic language, it was more theatre than resolve to end conflict peacefully. While calling for both sides to stop violence, it demanded Assad act first. Doing so ignored his responsibility to protect his people against Western-backed insurgents. Yet he’s blamed for doing his job.
    Washington and rogue NATO partners plan conflict, not peace. They want Assad replaced by someone they control. Lets not forget the lies of William Hague just last year when he declared that the intention was not regime change in Libya but to protect civilians. We now know that the UK and other western governments were instigating the uprising in the east of Libya. We now know that rather than peace, democracy and the protection of civilians, NATO bombs and western supported terrorism has left over 100,000 innocent Libyans dead, thousands more injured, civilian infrastructure in tatters, a once generous welfare system funded by a debt-free, state run bank now a distant memory. Libya is now a country at war with itself, rival militias killing each other and the Green resistance, those loyal to Gadaffi putting up a brave fight for their sovereignty. The Syrian people can see this and its obviously not what they want. They may desire political change but the majority wish it happen peacefully.
    Alas the aspirations of the Syrian people come a distant second to those of the imperial elites and brainless soldiers and mercenaries who thoughtlessly do their bidding. Peace won’t be tolerated. War is policywhen all other means of regime change fail and body counts don’t matter.

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